Business assistance sought in preventing suicides

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Businesses can play an important role in helping employees recognize and treat depression, in turn reducing a suicide rate that’s far higher in Mesa County than other areas of Colorado and the United States.

Karen Levad

That’s why Karen Levad hopes business leaders will join in a collaboration to help prevent suicide.

“This is really a community wide effort, said Levad, executive director of the Western Colorado Suicide Prevention Foundation based in Grand Junction.

A town hall style breakfast meeting for community leaders is planned.

And a number of programs are available to train employees on ways they can help prevent suicides, Levad said.

In addition, a new Web site takes a light-hearted approach to offering information to men, who are five times more likely to commit suicide than women. “That is a breath of fresh air in how it deals with a very serious problem,” Levad said.

Depression and suicide take an economic and personal toll, Levad said.

By one estimate, employees with depression miss an average of 4.8 work days and suffer 11.5 days of reduced productivity over a three-month period.

By another estimate, depression results in 200 million lost workdays each year at a cost to employers of between $17 billion and $44 billion.

In Mesa County, 44 suicides were reported in 2011, the most in four years.

With 29.6 suicides per 100,000 people, the suicide rate in Mesa County far exceeds state and national rates. Colorado is tied with New Mexico for the sixth highest suicide rate of 18.7 suicides per 100,000 people.

The U.S. rate is 12 suicides per 100,000 people.

Levad said the incidence of suicide is higher in the Western United States, a situation attributed to a tradition of rugged independence that makes people less likely to acknowledge problems or seek help. At the same time, fewer mental health resources are available in the region.

Of the 44 people who died by suicide in Mesa County in 2011, 33 were men and 35 were between he ages of 20 and 59. Most were employed and worked in a variety of blue collar and professional occupations, Levad said.

That’s why businesses can help in identifying signs of depression and ultimately prevent suicides, she said. While only 25 percent of people suffering from depression seek help, treatments are successful in 80 percent of those cases.

One key to preventing suicide, Levad said, is to realize depression is a prevalent disease triggered not only by psychological factors, but also physical and even genetic factors. Consequently, there should be no more stigma associated with seeking treatment for depression than other medical conditions, she said.

To enlist businesses in efforts to prevent suicide, a breakfast meeting for community leaders to discuss the issue is scheduled for 7 to 9 p..m. Sept. 19 at the Colorado Mesa University Center near 12th Street and Elm Avenue in Grand Junction.

In addition, a number of training programs are available to address depression and suicide prevention in the workplace. Those programs include short workshops that cover warning signs, create opportunities for conversations and promote cultures in which employees can seek and receive help. A more intensive, two-day suicide intervention skills workshop also is available.

A Web site at focuses suicide prevention efforts on men between the ages of 25 and 54.

The Web site and Man Therapy campaign use humor to encourage men to seek information about their health and consider treatment options. The Web site includes a quiz to help men evaluate their health and do-it-yourself tips, but also links to support groups and referrals to professional therapists. A character greets visitors for virtual appointments and offers an overview of what they’ll find at his office.

“There exists an age-old stigma that says mental health disorders are unmanly signs of weakness. And our main character and hero, Dr. Rich Mahogany, is dedicated to smashing that,” said Joe Conrad, founder of Cactus, a Denver-based advertising agency that helped develop the Web site.

Said Levad: “There’s a lot of tongue in cheek to address a very serious problem.”

While suicide remains a very serious problem in Mesa County, Levad has high hopes for renewed efforts to prevent suicides. Businesses can help, she said.

For more information about the Western Colorado Suicide Prevention Foundation and local efforts to prevent suicide, call 683-6626 or log on to Information about depression and suicide geared for men is available online at